UFC underpaying superstars as one of America’s highest grossing sports
By Brandon Huggard
September 18, 2021
Photo Credit: Associated Press
UFC fighters are being drastically underpaid.
Training and competing in combat sports is the single greatest threat to one’s physical and mental well-being in all of athletics. Requiring a mastery in several disciplines of combat sports to even compete, the UFC certainly holds the crown in being the most difficult professional sport environment to compete in. However, relative to other major sports, athletes in the UFC receive a much smaller cut of both total revenue and gross profit generated by the brand.
While the superstars of UFC need not worry about their checks from fights as they sport multi-million dollar sponsorship deals, they may be the only ones earning something resembling a fair wage.
According to John S. Nash of SB Nation’s MMA journal “Bloody Elbow,” the percentage of revenue fighters earn is below 20% of total revenue that the UFC brings in. A large portion of UFC fighters that don't regularly land main event fights even need to work second jobs, such as the tenth best welterweight in the world, Geoff Neal, who currently works full-time as a waiter at a Texas Roadhouse on top of his training.
Neal certainly isn’t alone, as some fighters struggle to even make money off of UFC bouts considering a training camp may cost up to $12,000, with the UFC only covering up to 10% of the fight purse in camp expenses.
Many fighters have begun speaking out about pay, even going so far as to criticize Dana White, President of the UFC, who has been fierce in defending his stance on payouts. In an interview with CNBC, White responded to the raw numbers behind the share of gross profit fighters receive, landing at approximately 18%, while other major sports see the gross profit share athletes receive as north of 50%.
“That’s been going on for twenty years [too] and it’ll be going on for the next twenty [...] you don’t hear the guys that actually bring in the revenue complaining about pay," White said.
While the superstars of the UFC are in fact paid well, only a fraction of the money that fighters like Conor McGregor earn is from the fighting itself, maintaining the reality of both revenue and gross profit shares largely being pocketed by the UFC and its promotion entities.
Given this publicity-centered approach, some of the UFC’s biggest names have not been immune from this pay disparity- as not all world class fighters sport the same influence and following that allow for large partnership deals.
We’ve seen the emergence of some alternative measures that fighters use to earn larger payouts. Smaller market fighters like Ben Askren and former champion Tyron Woodley have taken to fighting influencer personalities like Jake Paul, simply because it results in a better pay day.
Despite having no impact on world rankings or even existing as an MMA contest, fighters are moving away from low-paying UFC fights in order to receive ample compensation. As the UFC and its ability to make the best fights happen is tested more and more, pressure mounts on Dana White. The future of UFC Fighters and their rates of pay will be an interesting one to keep an eye on in the sports business world.